Thursday, 5 November 2015

Next day in The Gambia.

Sunday. I'm up early and ramble round the roads and paths skirting the hotel. Busy pedestrian traffic, crowds of hotel workers hurrying to their jobs, all with time to smile or nod or call a greeting. Breakfast is my usual coffee, cereal, and more coffee. For the rest of the day I'll eat and enjoy West African food but after seventy-odd years my breakfast has evolved into a ritual. We know most of the staff and exchange greetings - 'Good morning, Mala, how is the day? How are your family, are they all well?' I amble down to the Western Union office, forgetting it's closed on Sundays. I'm anxious to talk to the woman who runs the office because we're sponsoring her kid sister, a highly intelligent girl who wants to be a doctor but suffers from sickle-cell anaemia, a condition which gives her great pain and interrupts her education. J has sorted out the medical equipment we've been given. Ams, friend and driver turns up at exactly the time promised. We sit by the pool and discuss our plans for the day. Keluntang, our local agent, will meet us at the village clinic and we will hand over the medical stuff to the nurse in charge and take photographs so we can show our supporters exactly where their help has gone. After that, and a ritual round of Ataya (hot sweet tea, flavoured with mint leaves) we drive the short distance to K's compound. A child is sent to fetch K's wife, N, from her mother's compound. She is staying there till her baby is born, due any day now. We're sponsoring N's education at a craft college: her studies are suspended till the infant arrives. We learn that N has cancelled her pre-natal check at the medical centre in the next village so she could greet us. Ams looks worried and we arrange to take her to the centre the next day. More villagers call into the compound and we begin to wilt under the hot sun. A meal arrives, river fish, bony but delicious, cooked in an onion and tomato sauce, on a bed of rice. We sit round the bowl with the family, and choice morsels of fish are piled onto the rice in front of us, picked clean of bones by loving fingers. N beams with delight as we feast.
We try to ease ourselves into the African climate by doing as little as possible for a couple of days, usually, as today, unsuccessfully! Early to bed.

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